This is a list of things I carry on every winter hike. Actually, with the exception of gloves, I would carry these on any hike year round. The keyword for all of them is “safety”. You might think I’m paranoid, but I’m not. It’s not only for my but also for other people’s safety – I have actually used every single item from this list to help another hiker at least once. All are quite simple and self-explanatory, but I will still write a few words about each of them.
Obviously in winter days are shorter. If there’s some snow you will also inevitably move a little (or a lot) slower. You’re much more likely to reach your destination after sunset. And you will more likely start your hike before dawn. You have to take a headlamp with you. Never rely on your phone that you think you can use as a flashlight. One – when it gets dark your battery will be almost empty already. Two – you need your phone for other purposes, don’t waste the energy. Three – you cannot secure it on your head to direct the light where you need. You need to hold it in your hand which is not really convenient to say the least.
As mentioned above, your battery will loose capacity much faster than it does usually. Even if you don’t use the phone a lot and even if you do your best to protect it from cold. You need to have a backup energy storage. Doesn’t have to be a huge one. Twice the capacity of your phone’s battery is enough. Pro-tip: don’t forget the cable to connect your phone. Sounds silly but happened to me so it’s quite real 🙂
Even on a short hike things will break. You may need to tighten a screw in your pole, cut a strap on your crampons, make a hole in something – there’s unlimited number of scenarios. It is usually perfectly possible to deal with any of these problems without a tool. In winter though you don’t want to be stationary for longer than you absolutely need to and having a tool, you will fix anything in no time. It might be a pocket knife or a swiss army knife but my favourite is a multi tool. Yes, it is the heaviest option but it also is the most versatile. I never have to reduce my backpack weight so much that I would have to think about taking something lighter.
To be exact – two pairs of gloves. One thick pair as a replacement/backup option and one thin “liner” pair as additional layer and for doing things (like using the tool) which would be not really doable with thick gloves. I carry the thin pair in a pocket of my insulation layer so they are somewhat warm when I need to use them. I also like to have a conductive coating on them so I can use my phone. This is though something that does not last very long on some models and is simply gone after a few washing cycles. To be fair though – I manage to destroy the gloves in some other way usually before my phone touchscreen stops reacting completely.
And I mean – extra. A jacket that you don’t plan to use unless things go totally not as planned. If nothing unexpected happens it should spend the whole time packed in your backpack – that’s how you should approach this. It cannot be just any insulation layer you have. Well, it can, but it would be more convenient if it had some specific features. It’s best if it is large enough that you can put it on all other layers you’re already wearing. Having to undress in freezing cold – which is why you would want to use it usually – is the last thing you want to do. Your hardshell is all you want to be taking off in such event. Synthetic vs down – it depends on where you are, what you’re doing etc. If in doubt – go synthetic. These few hundred grams won’t be a big difference. It should also have a hood and it should be packable, so you don’t spill around all that’s inside your backpack when you reach for it.
This list could easily be longer. I could think of 7 or 10 items that would go perfectly well as “winter essentials”. These 5 though are what I really take with me everytime. I see them as cheap insurance policy. Would things go wrong – and they don’t have to go horribly wrong, not as planned is bad enough at times – it’s really worth carrying a little more. If you’re interested I have some extra tips for each of the items that I share in a video you can find on my Youtube channel, and I genuinely believe these extra tips – though some may seem banal – may change a lot.